Vegetable Beef and Barley Soup

I used to say, “Cold days call for soup.” Now it’s “Today is a good day for soup.” A good soup makes a welcome addition to any meal. It’s hard to beat a cup of soup and a sandwich or salad for lunch, and a hearty soup like this one makes an excellent dinner all by itself for up to six people.

Just serve it with a salad, good fresh bread and plenty of butter. Refrigerate any leftover soup; it will taste even better when you warm it up in a day or two.


1 lb. beef
4 cups beef broth
4 cups water
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 small onion (1 1/2 – 2 inch diameter)
1 medium potato
1 cup diced fresh or canned tomatoes
1 T vegetable oil
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. dried crushed basil or 1 T chopped fresh basil
2 tsp. dried parsley flakes or 2 T chopped fresh parsley
1/2 to 3/4 cup pearl barley


Trim excess fat from the meat and cut it into 3/4 inch cubes. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a soup pot and brown the meat. When the meat is browned, sprinkle the sugar over it and stir the meat briskly over medium heat to caramelize the sugar until the meat is dark brown. Add the broth, water and wine and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer covered for about thirty minutes.

While the meat is cooking, peel and chop the onion medium fine. Clean and chop the celery, carrots and potato into bite-sized pieces. Add the vegetables, salt and spices to the broth and simmer covered for another thirty minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the barley and continue simmering partially covered for 30 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

NOTES: The more barley you use, the thicker the soup will become. If you use more than 3/4 cup of barley, you should consider adding another cup of broth unless you prefer a very thick soup that resembles a stew.

If you have a Yukon gold or red potato or any other potato with a thin smooth skin, you don’t need to peel it. Just scrub it thoroughly before dicing.

Beef Stew

One time I asked my mother what her favorite food was.  She thought about my question for a few seconds and then said, “I like anything that I don’t have to cook.”

By the time I asked her that question, my mother had been cooking for her family over sixty years.  Even if we subtract all the Friday Fish Fries, Sunday Buffets and lunches with friends that she had enjoyed over those six decades, I’m sure that she had still cooked at least 60,000 meals.  My mother was fifteen years old when her mother was  diagnosed with tuberculosis and admitted to the TB sanitarium in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Mom’s two older sisters were married and no longer living at home, so she became the housekeeper and cook for her father and two older brothers with the extra responsibility of mothering a younger brother and little sister.  When her mother came home cured from the sanitarium, she was still weak, so Mom kept cooking.  Then she married my father and soon was cooking for her own offspring.

For over sixty years, seven days a week and three times a day, she worked in her kitchen.  She baked bread, cakes, pies, cookies and other desserts; she fried bacon, eggs, sausage and pancakes for breakfast; she roasted hams, chickens, turkeys and pork shoulders; she baked beans, squash, meatloaf, casseroles and puddings; and she made soups and stews almost every week in the year.

Since we grew many of our own vegetables or bought them cheaply from local farmers, soups and stews were a good way to satisfy big appetites without spending a fortune.  And of course, even tough cuts of meat become tender if you simmer them long enough.  Many of Mom’s stews included diced rutabaga, a vegetable which is no longer as popular as it once was.  Rutabaga adds a subtle sweetness to a stew that turns an ordinary dish into something really special.

Be sure to use it in the recipe which follows.  Even if you think you don’t like rutabaga, give it a chance.  This stew has made converts of many who knew they hated the root.


2 – 2 1/2  lbs. inexpensive cut of beef (chuck roast or similar)

1 large yellow onion 

1 clove garlic

2 to 3 cups of tomato juice

2 to 3 cups of dry red wine 

1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. sugar

2 T butter

2 T cooking oil

1/2 tsp. basil

1 bay leaf

Pinch of cloves

Pinch of cinnamon

1/8 tsp. cayenne

1/8 tsp. marjoram

3 or 4 medium carrots

3 or 4 ribs of celery

2 or 3 medium potatoes

1 small rutabaga (3 to 4 inch diameter)

2 T flour whisked into a half cup of water

1 small can of sliced mushrooms (optional)


Cut the meat into about one-inch cubes discarding bones and excessive fat.   Heat the butter and oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot holding at least 8 quarts.  Brown the meat in batches and set the cubes aside to drain on a paper towel.  While the meat is browning, remove the papery outer layer from the onion and garlic clove, chop the onion into half inch pieces and mince the garlic.

When all the meat has been browned, turn down the heat and add the onions to the pot.  Cook slowly without browning for three or four minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and return the meat to the pot.  

Add equal amounts of tomato juice and wine to cover the meat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour stirring once or twice.  Add all the herbs and spices at this time with more liquid if necessary, and let the pot simmer another hour.  

While the meat is cooking, clean and chop the carrots into 1/4 inch slices.  Clean and chop the celery into 1/2 inch slices.  Peel and cut the potatoes and rutabaga into 1/2 by 1 inch pieces.  Add the vegetables to the pot with equal amounts of juice and wine to cover them.  

Simmer for thirty-five minutes.  Whisk the flour into a half cup of cold water and stir this mixture into the stew until the broth thickens slightly.  At this time add a small can of sliced mushrooms to the stew or add some fresh braised mushrooms if you wish.

Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary and serve with a glass of the dry wine, plenty of good homemade bread and perhaps a salad on the side.  

NOTES:  Don’t forget the rutabaga!  Mom did not use wine in her stews, but she liked my beef stew.  I do wonder sometimes if maybe that was just because she didn’t have to cook it.